Property of an Important Private European Collection
Peinture-poème (“Bonheur d’aimer ma brune”) is among the initial “oneiric” or “dream” canvases that Joan Miró began painting during the summer of 1925. These works were the artist’s first extended, thematic cycle of pictures, which he continued to create through the spring of 1927, amounting to more than a hundred paintings in all. Miró—an artist who would make sexuality, eroticism, and love a primary impetus in his work throughout his career—depicted in Peinture-poème one of his earliest scenarios of an interaction between a pair of lovers. This canvas may be, moreover, the very first of Miró’s compositions on which he inscribed a brief, concise, and simple line of poetry to evoke the mood or feeling of his “dream”, in the present instance, the elation at being in love—“Bonheur d’aimer ma brune” (“The happiness of loving my brown-haired girl”).
This remarkably productive year was by any measure an annus mirabilis and a pivotal juncture for Miró. He had the good fortune—and likely the prescient wisdom—to have situated himself in Paris among a remarkable coterie of friends who were emerging as the new catalysts of artistic and intellectual ferment during the early 1920s. Only a few of them, André Masson for one, were painters; they were instead mostly writers and especially poets—Louis Aragon, André Breton, Robert Desnos, Paul Éluard, Max Jacob, and Benjamin Péret, among others—nearly all of whom belonged to the nascent surrealist circle.
The first Manifeste du surréalisme that Breton published in October 1924 became their playbook, and Miró’s as well. “I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory,” Breton declared, “into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality” (R. Seaver and H.R. Levine, eds., Manifestoes of Surrealism, Ann Arbor, 1969, p. 14). Miró attested to Jacques Dupin in 1977 that his Paris studio during the mid-1920s—at 45, rue Blomet—“was a decisive place,” at “a decisive moment for me. It was there that I discovered everything I am, everything I would become” (quoted in M. Rowell, ed., Joan Miró: Selected Writings and Interviews, Boston, 1986, p. 100).
By 1923, Miró had recast the hyper-realist precision of his early imagery into a pictorial idiom of primitive, invented signs, created in the spirit of the cave art petroglyphs that had been discovered at prehistoric sites in northeast Spain and southwest France. “I am working really a lot, with absolute regularity and method,” Miró wrote to his friend Josep Ràfols in September 1923. “I have managed to break absolutely free of nature, and the landscapes have nothing to do with outer reality” (quoted in ibid., p. 82).
At age thirty and still unattached, Miró admitted to having romance very much on his mind—he wrote to Picasso in 1923 that he was then “in pursuit of a Mme Miró, a studio, and a dealer!” (quoted in C. Lanchner, Joan Miró, exh. cat., The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1993, p. 322). During the early 1920s, Miró could hardly afford to marry and start a family. At times he subsisted on a meager, daily ration of dried figs. “I lived alone in total poverty, but every time I went out I wore a monocle and white spats” (quoted in M. Rowell, ed., op. cit., 1986, pp. 100-101). Like the Renaissance master Leonardo, Miró would stare at shapes reflected on his studio walls or even the cracks in the plaster, capturing the images they suggested in quick sketches. “During this period hunger gave me hallucinations,” he wrote, “and the hallucinations gave me ideas for paintings” (ibid.).
The exhibition that Jacques Viot gave Miró at Galerie Pierre, Paris, in June 1925 traced the artist’s recent, transformational progress. Miró’s surrealist comrades well understood what the painter was up to, and a few bought pictures. Otherwise, as Miró later recalled, “everyone had a good laugh” (quoted in ibid., p. 111). When purchasing a small canvas, the eccentrically unconventional writer Raymond Roussel (Impressions d’Afrique, 1910) astutely observed, “This goes well beyond painting” (quoted in J. Dupin, Miró, Paris, 2012, p. 116).
Following the close of his Galerie Pierre show, Miró returned to his family home in Montroig, Catalunya, where he found the solitude he desperately craved to journey deep within the innermost recesses of his conscious and subconscious mind. He soon commenced his revelatory, regenerative cycle of “oneiric” paintings. “Surrealism freed the unconscious, exalted desire, endowed art with additional powers,” Miró declared retrospectively in 1964. “Hallucinations replaced the external model. I painted as if in a dream, with the most total freedom. The canvases of this period…are the most naked I have painted” (quoted in Joan Miró 1893/1993, exh. cat., Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, 1993, p. 180).
Miró completed that summer, in only two or three days, the large, celebrated Peinture, better known as The Birth of the World, which evokes a cosmic void giving birth to primal forms (Dupin, no. 125)—this painting is the title centerpiece of the current Miró exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, on view through 15 June. The artist created Peinture-poème soon afterwards, as one of a set of five “dream” paintings that feature a man and a woman engaged in a primal mating rite (Dupin, nos. 128-132). “These oneiric paintings possess great erotic suggestive powers,” Dupin stated. “Connected with subjective obsessions and realized at the dictation of the unconscious, they simultaneously unmask and mask, set down and erase, the infinitely varied phantasms of the libido” (op. cit., 2012, p. 127).
These paintings of lovers have subtitles such as Coitus, Amour (the latter handwritten in dotted paint-script on the canvas), Les Amoureuses, and Adam et Ève, thus continuing Miró’s creation narrative. The bent legs of the squatting male figure in Peinture-poème echo those of the white and black figure at lower left in the MoMA Birth of the World. The “sun” circle, strung like a serenading guitar, similarly reiterates the red “balloon” star in the latter; and the conjoined red delta shapes (perhaps representing the saw-tooth peaks of Montserrat near Barcelona) recall the black triangular form in The Birth of the World, which—as an inverted “delta of Venus”—may allude to the dark, pubic grotto in Gustave Courbet’s L’origine du monde, 1866 (Musée d’Orsay, Paris).
The hand-painted inscription in Peinture-poème has the effect, like a sudden wake-up call, of bringing this dream-world back to a familiar, comprehensible reality. A classic instance of Miró merging pictorial and verbal elements is another Peinture-poème of early 1925, which begins “le corps de ma brune...” (Dupin, no. 149).
The oneiric paintings represent Miró’s response to the poetry he had been reading at 45, rue Blomet, from the works of the 19th century visionaries Novalis, Lautréamont, and Rimbaud, to the most recent verse of his surrealist confrères. This poetic element largely determined the lyrical, reductively essential—indeed, proto-minimalist—aspect of Miró’s compositions in the dream pictures. “I thought you had to go beyond the ‘plastic thing’ to reach poetry” (quoted in exh. cat., op. cit., 1993, p. 180). Miró’s freely intuitive and improvisatory approach to content and form became a potent influence on painting during the post-Second World War era, especially in America. “In these paintings, Miró reveals himself to have been the most unmistakable precursor of contemporary abstract lyricism,” Dupin claimed, “the natural consequence of a mode of expression ruled entirely by unconscious impulses and dreams” (op. cit., 2012, pp. 124-125).
The first owner of Peinture-poème was Raymond Queneau (1903-1976), a French writer who joined the surrealist group in 1924. Although he entered psychoanalysis like many of his colleagues, he never shared the Surrealists’ enthusiasm for automatic writing, and had strong reservations about their unquestioning support of the Soviet Union. He sided with Georges Bataille, who in 1930 formed a group that split off from Breton and his remaining loyal followers. In addition to volumes of poetry, Queneau wrote nearly two dozen novels; he is best-known for Zazie dans le métro, a satirical view of Parisian life published in 1959, which the director Louis Malle adapted for the cinema in 1960.
Property of an Important Private European Collection
Peinture-poème (Bonheur d'aimer ma brune)
Joan Miró (1893-1983)
Paris, Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Joan Miró, June-November 1962, p. 29, no. 31.
Munich, Haus der Kunst, Elan Vital oder das Auge des Eros, May-August 1994, p. 563, no. 453 (illustrated in color, fig. 108).
Martigny, Fondation Pierre Gianadda, Miró, June-November 1997, p. 42, no. 11 (illustrated in color, p. 43).
Stockholm, Moderna Museet and Humlebaek, Louisiana Museum, Joan Miró: Creator of New Worlds, May 1998-January 1999, no. 13 (illustrated in color).
Koblenz, Ludwig Museum, Deutschland-Frankreich, Dialoge der Kunst im XX. Jahrhundert, September-November 1999, p. 249, no. 43 (illustrated in color, p. 132).
Vienna, Kunstforum Wien, Miró. Später Rebell, March-June 2001, p. 86, no. 3 (illustrated in color, p. 87).
Paris, Galerie Nationale du Grand Palais and Barcleona, Museu Picasso, Paris Barcelone: De Gaudi à Miró, October 2001-May 2002, p. 418 (illustrated in color).
Düsseldorf, Museum Kunstpalast, Joan Miró: Snail Woman Flower Star, July-October 2002, p. 234, no. 11 (illustrated in color, p. 134).
Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Art and Utopia, Limited Action, June-September 2004, p. 398, no. 412 (illustrated in color, p. 175).
Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona and Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao Paris i els surrealistes, February-September 2005, p. 182 (illustrated in color).
J. Lassaigne, Miró, Paris, 1963, p. 47 (illustrated in color).
J. Dupin and A. Lelong-Mainaud, Joan Miró: Catalogue raisonné, paintings, 1908-1930, Paris, 1999, vol. I, p. 114, no. 128 (illustrated in color).
C. Rubini and F. Bodet, The Little Book of Miró, Paris, 2004, pp. 12-13 (illustrated in color; with inverted dimensions).
Raymond Queneau, Neuilly-sur-Seine (acquired from the artist and until at least 1963).
Galerie Tarica, Paris.
Acquired from the above by the family of the late owner, by 1975.